Season Preview: FC Ufa

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Last season, FC Ufa achieved the highest league finish in the club’s history, as they surprised everyone to finish 7th place. A club with modest resources and a small squad, excellent management from two top young coaches, Viktor Goncharenko and Sergey Semak was key to their achievement. Operating with a 5-3-2 or 5-4-1, they were often a thorn in the side of the larger teams, using their excellent defensive co-oridination and lightning quick counter attacks, spearheaded by Kehinde Fatai, to punish their opposition.

Having lost Goncharenko to CSKA half way through the season, Semak was brought in to his first senior management role, and although they dropped a couple of positions, they still did very well.

This summer, Ufa have been perhaps the least active of all Premier League clubs, with no major outgoings and just two players coming in. Aleksandr Belenov signed a permanent deal after impressing on loan last season. The experience goalkeeper’s performances were enough to earn him his first call up to the Russian national side aged 31, though he did not make the final cut for the Confederations Cup. Secondly, Georgian international defender Jemal Tabidze has joined from AA Gent in Belgium. The 21-year-old impressed during a spell on loan at Ural last season, and he has signed a permanent deal for Ufa.

Head coach
Sergey Semak had long been touted as a future coach at Zenit where he was assistant, and so to receive a breakthrough at a decently run side like Ufa is a dream for a young coach like himself. Like his predecessor Goncharenko, Semak has operated with a five-man defence, and also like his predecessor, he has not had any issues in using young players in his team, with Igor Bezdeneznykh and Ivan Oblyakov featuring regularly, and rarely altering his preferred starting lineup to give the team stability.

Greatest strength

Without doubt their defence is the team’s strongest area. Although the players individually might not spark any excitement, together they form a strong unit, mixing experience and youth to form a solid backline. Bojan Jokic, with experience from England and Spain, joined in the winter transfer window, and right wing back Aleksandr Sukhov had the season of his life aged 31, while central defenders Dmitriy Zhivoglyadov and the aforementioned Tabidze providing stability and youth in the middle. Then of course they are backed up by Belenov in goal, perhaps the league’s best goalkeeper last season, signed to a long term contract this summer in an excellent piece of business.

Greatest weakness

Ufa’s weaknesses are hard to describe, they struggles to score a lot of goals, but with Kehinde Fatai they are not lacking a goalscorer, it is more down to their style of play which restricts them in this sense. In creative midfielders they have Oblyakov, Bezdeneznykh and Ondrej Vanek. The first two are young, while Vanek has slotted into a more reserved role since joining the club last summer. If they can add another forward and creative midfielder they will look a lot stronger going into next season.

Key player

Nigerian attacker Sylvester Igboun is Ufa’s current talisman, their most valuable player and someone who can make something out of nothing. Lightning quick, and with the ability to play up front or out wide, Igboun can both create and score goals, with his feet or with his head, and from distance or in the box. With Fatai used up front more often than not, Igboun is a given a free role, roaming anywhere across the frontline. His work rate and physical ability have made him the only foreign player retained at the club in last summer’s clear out, and although he had previously expressed his intentions to leave, Ufa’s progress into a competitive club in the league might have persuaded him to stay.

Young starlet

Still just 19 years old, Oblyakov featured 20 times last season for Ufa having signed from Zenit’s youth team, and made a sterling impression, enough to be linked with a move back to Zenit already. A tiny midfielder with the ability to attack and defend, he is capable with both feet and is confident when around the box to shoot at goal often, though he only scored once last season, in a home defeat to eventual champions Spartak Moscow. With more gametime hopefully to come this season, Oblyakov will be hoping to keep up his impressive performances with the aim of perhaps getting a transfer next summer.

Season prediction

With their relative stability over the summer, and their showing last season, I would hope that they can again maintain a mid-table position, though anything higher will be amazing considering the competitiveness of the teams around and above them. A team which rarely causes any trouble, and has not been known to be in debt like many of the other RFPL clubs, they perhaps deserve to achieve something more than mid-table mediocrity.

Author: David Sansun

Arsenal and Rubin Kazan fan. Possibly too optimistic for Russian football which means I’m left disappointed a lot.

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